Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism

Freedom, Spinoza shows, is something that can be achieved only when we can apprehend the real causes of our actions, when we set aside the ‘sad passions’ that intoxicate and entrance us.

Mark Fisher
Capitalist Realism

There are thematic similarities between Dead Man Working and Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, particularly around the invasive and pervasive characteristic of working life specific to late capitalism. Both books present cogent arguments for the devastating effects on our lives and mental health. Each book also addresses the propensity for counterculture to be absorbed into the mainstream.

It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. After 1989, capitalism has successfully presented itself as the only realistic political-economic system – a situation that the bank crisis of 2008, far from ending, actually compounded. The book analyses the development and principal features of this capitalist realism as a lived ideological framework. Using examples from politics, films (Children Of Men, Jason Bourne, Supernanny), fiction (Le Guin and Kafka), work and education, it argues that capitalist realism colours all areas of contemporary experience, is anything but realistic and asks how capitalism and its inconsistencies can be challenged. It’s a sharp analysis of the post-ideological malaise that suggests that the economics and politics of neo-liberalism are givens rather than constructions.

Dead Man Working

For many years, capitalism fought an ideological battle around its legitimation that was staunchly rightwing in nature. Criticism was the reserve for those on the left who were worried about the alienating and disenfranchising effects of large enterprise, market society and class inequalities. Corporate ideology on the other hand, aimed to justify the sanctity of markets by pairing the business world in glowing colours (as the creator of jobs, wealth, social goods). However, since the 1990s a strange mutation has occurred. What Tom Wolfe dubbed ‘radical chic’ in his classic 1970s New Yorker article, (lambasting the trend of privileged elites holding tea-parties with radical militants to revive their waning artistic kudos) has now been mainstreamed in the imagery of corporate life. When it comes the mainlining life into the dead man working, it is not only non-work try has been harnessed to deepen the edifice of employment, but crucially anti-work. It seems that subversion-in a harmless and defanged form-is a real seller.

Carl Cederström and Peter Fleming, Dead Man Working

Reviews

Cederström and Fleming, like a present day Virgil, bravely venture into an underworld full of shades whose entire lives have been put to work, who throw themselves heart and soul into the job, and who are constantly implored by management gurus to “be themselves,” “feel free,” and “have fun” in the office. This fascinating and dark little book is an excellent and disturbing introduction to what increasingly large realms of the world of work have become.

Michael Hardt, Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth.

What has work done to us? Cederström and Fleming’s brilliant dark and witty book tells us the truth. Working in our sleep? Dressing up as infants? Deprivation tank addiction? Fitness centrers? Suicide? Email? If you didn’t already know what work has made you become then this book might have a devastating effect on your life. Read it!

Simon Critchley, Hans Jonas Professor, New School for Social Research

David Winters’s review